Sunday, September 25, 2005

"The Deepest Desire"

Today is a big, wonderful day for me. Today is the day my debut recital disc arrives in France. It's strange to have such a big occasion happen while I'm removed from it completely. We recorded this disc 8 months ago in a tiny, freezing chapel in the middle of Paris, and now I sit in a still hot and humid Kansas City while they stock the shelves across the world with my recording! (Another reminder that there will always be elements of this career that are out of one‘s control!) I suppose I will have to wait until they release it here in the States (hopefully very soon!)

However, I definitely wanted to share the excitement here with you, and let you know what an enormous thrill this was for me to participate in. Working with David, my pianist, and Fran, the wonderful flautist, (both very dear people to me), made this project even more special, and I hope that if you happen across it, you will feel the energy we put into creating this collection of American Songs. Just to whet your appetite, I thought I would share the liner notes I wrote for the CD booklet, and tell you that it is a true joy to share this experience:

“It's probably best that I never met Leonard Bernstein in person, because surely I would have fallen madly in love with him. I never saw him conduct live, but his magnetism resonates viscerally in me whether through his recordings, his old NBC broadcasts, or through his pen. He redefined the word “charisma”. In the way he embraced his gifts and nurtured his passion for music, sharing it with anyone he could, for me, he brought to life the word “desire”. He, with both his heralded bravado and quiet humanity, sparked the passion for my first recording, “The Deepest Desire”.

In choosing the program for a debut recital disc, perhaps an artist should be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task: how in the world do I begin to sort through the wealth of masterpieces at my fingertips, daring to stamp a select few with my voice? Surprisingly, for me the choice was clear, for the spark was already burning. I was heartbroken when I first poured through the autobiography of Leonard Bernstein and discovered that he was tormented over his lack of recognition as a serious composer, instead always heralded merely as a genius conductor. I felt myself drawn to see what, according to public opinion, he was lacking as a writer. Instead, I found these songs crafted with the utmost of care — seeping with a haunted desire for something unreachable: a lost love, a forgotten youth, the irrepressible desire for freedom; they simply grabbed me and would not let go.

But physical desires are only a part of what drives us.

For the rest, I wanted to explore the other desires we encounter on our immense search for a place of equilibrium, for belonging or for understanding. Enter Aaron Copland and Emily Dickinson. My first explosive experience singing Copland‘s music was the mezzo solo in his work, “In the beginning”, a piece ablaze with the colors and force of Genesis’s Creation. I discovered then what kind of power his music could hold. It was much later that I found Dickinson‘s words, and although the two of them never met and seem a most uncanny pair, their partnership gives us a song cycle that penetrates the questions of nature, death, life, and eternity, taking us through this journey twice during the course of their twelve radiant jewels. I find in Dickinson‘s poetry, captured perfectly by the sometimes stark, sometimes assaulting music of Copland, a true vulnerability and bravery in her desire to search for answers. I am grateful she dared to be so human and so audacious.

It's precisely this kind of humanity that drew me to my final selection, “The Deepest Desire”. I have the most vivid memories of seeing the film, “Dead Man Walking”, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s best-selling novel, and being haunted by its impact on me. The actual opportunity to see Sister Helen in person changed my life. We first met each other when I was given the gift of performing the role of “Sister Helen” in Jake Heggie’s opera, “Dead Man Walking”, and instead of finding a pious, institutional woman, I found a lady with a smile that could light up Manhattan, a handshake that could greet both a President and a convict, and a most wicked sense of humor. Through her words, she gives us the liberty to desire what is true and profound in this life: love, justice, and compassion. By asking questions such as, “is there life before death?”, Sister Helen focuses us on the fact that the journey is now. How do we desire to live it out? Her passion is contagious, her love infectious, and her desire for true justice so very just. And for Jake, my wonderful friend and inspiration, his encouragement of Sr. Helen to put her thoughts onto paper to inspire us all, combined with his unending, sensitive musicianship, has given me the focal point for this first solo recording. My gratitude is profound."

I am thrilled to present this recording of all American Music, as I believe so strongly in the contribution of American voices, both in music as well as in poetry. It is my desire that giving my voice to their words and phrases does justice to their vision. I hope you will enjoy the journey."

(Photos: With David Zobel at the Places des Voges; the freezing, atmospheric little chapel in Paris where we made the recording in the dead of January!)

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